The Fab Five are going to save the world. At least that’s what I told Bobby Berk, the interior design expert on the team of five fabulous men who star in “Queer Eye” — Netflix’s wildly popular reboot of the campy early-aughts “Queer Eye For the Straight Guy” makeover show.
In case you haven’t heard (and, really, you’re probably the only one) Berk and his “Queer Eye” castmates Antoni Porowski, Karamo Brown, Jonathan Van Ness and Tan France are in town filming the show’s 3rd season. Kansas City has welcomed the cast and crew with open arms — and maybe also a little stalking, because the five men have each become celebrities in their own right, thanks in no small part to their earnest, endearing and sometimes edgy personalities on the show, as well as their social media feeds.
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But the blond-haired, blue-eyed Berk — known for his bold minimalist aesthetic with the occasional well-placed dramatic accent wall — admits he wasn’t quite so eager for the show’s production to relocate from Atlanta to the Show Me State.
Berk grew up in Mount Vernon, a small town in Southwest Missouri. As he tells it, it was everything you’d expect a Bible Belt community to be like for a gay kid in the 1990s. So, at just 15, he made his way to the slightly more sophisticated Springfield, and by the time he turned 18, he was living in Denver, where he landed a job with a home decor retailer.
Berk quickly worked his way up in the interior design world, and eventually moved east to New York City, where he opened his own store, Bobby Berk Home. These days, he’s still the driving creative force behind his agency, Bobby Berk Interiors + Design, but his weekdays are mostly spent filming “Queer Eye.”
On each episode, Berk completely makes over a person’s house in just four days. Unlike the other four cast members, who are experts in grooming, fashion, culture, and food, Berk spends less time with the show’s “heroes” and more time getting his hands dirty in their homes. But that on-screen time Berk and his co-stars do get with the subjects is exactly what sets this “Queer Eye” apart from the original.
Where “Queer Eye For the Straight Guy” relied on humor to get through a makeover and make the general public more comfortable with homosexuality, in “Queer Eye,” the makeover is simply a vehicle to remind us to see the good in everyone. And somehow this very diverse group of lifestyle experts manages to pull it off time and time again, without any sappy shticks or finger-pointing.
“We’re trying to really help the world see that the more you build people up, and are positive, and the more you compliment people — that it builds their self-confidence,” Berk says. “And the happier they are, the better they treat you. The better the whole world is.”
Needless to say, sometimes the hero cries. Sometimes Berk cries. Usually everyone watching at home cries.
“It’s not about the makeovers, really, at all,” Berk admits. “It’s about us using our crafts to affect change from within.”
Of course, the people want more Bobby and he gets his fair share of requests for more design scenes, but “Queer Eye” isn’t HGTV, and while a rushed renovation makes for compelling TV, paint colors and cabinet pulls simply aren’t the point.
“It’s about how I use sanding a dresser drawer or building a flower box to get them to open up and talk about things,” says Berk.
In the season 2 premiere, it also meant he had to open up and revisit his own painful past with the Christian church.
Luckily, Kansas City has made Berk’s return to Missouri more of a party than a pain — something he definitely wasn’t expecting.
“It’s a beautiful city, it’s a great place to live,” he says. “I spent 17 years of my life trying to get the hell out of Missouri. And now I’m like, ‘Huh, I could live here.’ I kind of want to live here. I don’t know if I want to leave.”
Unfortunately for us, Berk has a home and a husband waiting for him in Los Angeles, so we can’t keep him forever. But one thing is for sure — OK, two things: Kansas City loves Bobby Berk, and Bobby Berk loves Kansas City back.
And, hey, at least we have season 3 of “Queer Eye” to look forward to.
Check out the photo gallery for a look at Bobby Berk’s September 30 appearance at Golden & Pine in Prairie Village.